Uganda’s textile industry: going round seeing tri-stars until the phoenix rose via fine spinners


Shorts Label.jpg
Comments about shorts here prohibited

WHILE doing some laundry the other day I noticed that I own a pair of shorts that had been made in Sri Lanka. Then I remembered that the person behind Uganda’s ‘big-ticket’ AGOA venture, Tri-Star Apparels, is also from Sri Lanka.

That sent me right back on my current AGOA agony, and I started wondering about all those girls who were so publicly employed by Tri-Star Apparels almost twenty years ago.

The story made big news back then, and we saw photographs of hundreds (were they thousands?) of girls going through a recruitment and then training process, after which they were given those coveted jobs.

At some point I even joined delegations paying official visits to the factory in Bugolobi, at a location made famous in the 1980s for hosting our biggest export then – coffee – processed and warehoused there by the mighty Coffee Marketing Board. Twenty years after that, the location was hosting another big export – clothing made by the girls of Tri-Star Apparels.

The newspapers back then wrote stuff like: “Tri-Star Apparels was founded by Deshabandu Kumar Dewapura in 1979 with just 10 machines and 15 employees. Tri-Star is now a global employer boasting dozens of factories in Sri Lanka, Kenya, Uganda, and Botswana that employ 15,000 workers producing 15 million pieces of garment. Its corporate clients include Ralph Lauren (2002 net revenue $2.3 billion), Gap (2002 net revenue, $7.0 billion), Guess (2002 net revenue $0.8 billion) and Limited Brands which owns Victoria’s Secret line of clothing (2002 revenue, $8.4 billion). It recently signed a contract to supply two million pieces of baby and children wear every month to UK-based Grasshopper Holder, one of the largest EU garment suppliers.”

For real, those words appear here.

The news stories also reported that Vellulapai Kananathan was the man behind this venture in Uganda, having partnered with the Sri Lanka-based Tri-Star Apparels.

Kananathan is today, I believe, Sri Lanka’s Honorary Consul to Uganda. The rest of the internet reports that the Tri-Star Apparels founder, Kumar Dewapura, passed away in September 2014.

Curiosity further piqued and my mind still on the statistic I saw a couple of weeks ago that said during the whole of 2016 Uganda only exported textiles worth US$9million to the United States under AGOA arrangements, I dug a bit more.

The internet doesn’t easily reveal information about Tri-Star Apparels. bloomberg.com, normally a trustworthy reporter of financial and business news, has a record of ‘Apparels Tri-Star (Uganda) Ltd.’ whose Key Executive is Mr. Vellupi Kanathan and that “operates as a subsidiary of LAP Green Network.”

The website has no record of the Sri Lankan Tri-Star Apparels, but that didn’t worry me – I simply looked elsewhere and found it…no. Not the Sri Lankan one – apparently there is a Tri-Star Apparels in India that has a Facebook page or wall to which the persons involved post photographs of clothing they sell.

This Tri-Star Apparels claimed to be based in Bangalore, India, and listed a website that is non-functional. Since I couldn’t be bothered to dial the number provided, I went to the rest of the internet only to find them listed elsewhere (same India phone number) with a Director called Mr. Naidu, and a rickety statement in English accompanying a small photo of t-shirts that all put together seemed to spell the word “con”.

I closed those sites and found the “Sri Lanka Directory of Exporters” under the header of the Sri Lanka Export Board, which listed Tri-Star Apparels Pvt. Ltd. with nothing under “Product /Services Range” but contact details that included the website’ www.tristar.org’.

The same website is listed in a few other places, with the company contact being Ms. Samantha Gunawardena, accompanied by a legend about the work they do.

The listed website is non-functional.

Then lankainformation.lk, the “Gateway to Sri Lanka”, presented a list of players in the Textile and Garments industry that didn’t mention Tri-Star.

It was frustrating.

Until I hit pay dirt. An organisation called Industrial Restructuring Consultancy Pvt. Ltd. had an online entry from February 2016 detailing how they helped ‘Tri Star Garment Industry’ conduct a restructuring in which they gave up a 20% shareholding and downsides from 8,000 to 4,000 staff.

At this point I felt I should focus more on my Ugandan Tri-Star instead and was happy to discover that there was a recent update made along the way.

About three years ago, NTV (in Uganda, I have reason to believe), published a story titled, “Kenyan textile entrepreneur takes over Tristar Apparel”, that read quite determinedly: “Fine Spinners, a Kenyan textile company, will be injecting over Ushs108billion over the next three years in a value development of Uganda’s cotton sector.”

That was three years ago so by counting very slowly one would be correct in expecting that we have received Ushs108billion in this country from Fine Spinners, a Kenyan textile company.

Continued the story, “Fine Spinners has taken over the operations of Tristar Apparel in Uganda. Tristar Apparel was closed down after years of losses despite heavy government subsidies and assured market through the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act initiative.”

Pause for thought there and think to yourself why the Kenyan company was so ready to inject Ushs108billion into a business venture that had failed in spite of subsidies and AGOA.

I couldn’t work it out immediately myself. Especially taking the usual rudimentary action of discovery in 2018 – Googling ‘Fine Spinners Kenya’.

The internet seemed to know more about Fine Spinners Uganda than Kenya, and I learnt about Jaswinder Bedi, described as a “textile technologist” and the man behind Fine Spinners. His personal story aside, I was astounded to read, in The Independent magazine:

“The government of Uganda has leased Phenix Logistics Uganda Ltd, a garment manufacturer based in Kampala, to a Kenyan-based garment manufacturer – Fine Spinners. The deal…at un-disclosed amount of money and a 15-year period is interesting ….Phenix Logistics has been recording losses, with the government injecting in billions of shillings to keep it afloat.”

So… what does Fine Spinners know that nobody else in Uganda appears to know and why don’t we know it after all these years?

I intend to find out for myself one day, rather than read stuff about them off the internet; their website says they are located on Spring Road in Bugolobi, and their phone number is listed there as +256 414 342 716, so I will be dialing it soon.

Their story, on that website, goes: “Our cotton is predominantly grown in the West, where, assisted by leading development partners, we mentor our smallholder farmers in sustainable cotton agriculture.

At harvest, the CMiA (Cotton Made in Africa – see http://www.cottonmadeinafrica.org/)-branded lint bales are transported to the Fine Spinners facilities in Kampala to be blended and spun into yarn. Our knitting and dying processes meet exacting international standards, as do our fabrics, which are subjected to rigorous retailer-specified testing regimes.”

Fine Spinners sources their cotton, says the website, from Kasese’s Western Uganda Cotton Company (WUCC) and NOT from the usual parts we have been hearing about since the days adults like myself were in primary school. This story here is further evidence of those expectations.

Fine Spinners even brought a group of European textile manufacturers to visit the place last year in April and they exclaimed that they were thoroughly impressed by Uganda’s cotton.

Said one of the textile importers: “I import 500,000 T-shirts per year, but now I want to grow it to one million pieces annually next year 2018. When you ask me why, I will tell you it is because Uganda has good cotton with production facilities.”

That was Joern Otto, the vice president for sourcing at Germany’s Bonprix Company – which actually exists, going by the internet. Either way, we should ensure that he actually doubles his purchases as planned.

It appears to be a true story, this one of Fine Spinners and Bonprix and Uganda’s cotton being so great. The Economist wrote a feature about this here: https://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21721636-will-manufacturing-africa-ever-take-journey-african-cotton-boll.

Ugandan clothes ARE being sold in Germany and the United States IN SPITE of the lobby group SMART (Secondary Materials And Recycled Textiles Association) and their rather silly assertions about how hapless Uganda’s manufacturing future is, and how inert we sometimes are.

In an April 2016 interview, Jas Bedi stated that Fine Spinners was exporting about 50,000 t-shirts a month and was targeting 500,000 going up to 1million t-shirts a month by the end of that year.

He has done so well, going by the media reports, that just one client – Bonprix – is targeting 1million t-shirts from Uganda every month this year.

One of my favourite statements attributed to him goes: “Ugandan cotton itself is so much more superior, so it just gives you a competitive advantage right before you start. It’s handpicked, not machine picked, and because of that it’s a superior cotton. When you start with better cotton, you get a better product.”

What time and resources we wasted on those other guys long gone!
Shiyaya Coupon Book Advert FINAL.001

what 2018 will be in Uganda


Meme New Year 2018

IN talking about what to expect in 2018, let’s start from the bottom and go upwards, since Age has proven to be such a factor in Uganda during 2017, what with the Age Limit debates dominating everything we’ve seen and talked about in all settings for the last so many weeks.

I know for sure that in 2018 we will see a record number of births in Uganda because this appears to have been the trend that has over the years led to our population being so generally youthful.

It’s going to be worse this year because not only do we have more educated people filling the space within our borders, but the doctors are now being paid much more money than before, and the nurses and midwives have also brokered a good salary deal for themselves.

Using simple logic, that means they will work much, much harder at ensuring that people stay alive from the time they are born till the time they really have to die. 

Newborn infants will therefore live till their old age, ill-raised toddlers will not die due to the carelessness of their ignorant parents who let them cross the road willy-nilly or chew on dry cells imported from China; teenagers won’t be expiring due to drug abuse because there will be doctors on hand to plunge syringes into their chests…

The list goes on and on – just like the lives of many more of the little babies that will be born this year. 

Besides doctors being motivated by increased salaries, the science also bears this thought out: infant mortality dropped from 54 per 1,000 newborn children in 2011 to 43 in 2016. Imagine that! In 2018 we might be below 30!

The clever people will have already realised this and invested in stuff that will take advantage of the existence of so many young people – besides big ticket items like electricity out of massive dams – ranging from more schools to more toy imports and local toy manufacturing.

2018 is going to be the year of all manner of things that our parents – those of us old enough to actually be reading this article – would never have dreamed of.

When you speak with primary school children, for instance, and ask them what they want to be when they grow up, they will say stuff like: “NeuroAtomic Scientist” and “Robotologist” and “Life Tone Adjuster”.

Those jobs will not be in actual existence yet, but the kids will have their sights on them and so will the academicians. See, the future is already here, we are being told, and it will not require lawyers and doctors and people with other regular jobs.

A colleague of mine told me how her multinational employer (soft drink beverages) had this year started to do away with their big, global Audit Firm because of the concept of big data and computer-generated robotic analytics.

Because the computers of today are so clever, apparently, they only need to have more information fed into them and they will think and analyse just like a human being does but in the millionth of time we do.

The Audit Firm is flabbergasted right now but considering that in the developed world supermarkets are employing robots to carry shopping and manage the payment tills, think how many jobs we will have left soon.

Of course, we don’t have that problem in such a big way yet but technology is wiping out some of our regular jobs – “Nanti Google yajja!” (“Google came, so…”) is already pushing out jobs that used to be so knowledge based that some people were gods – Doctors, Lawyers, Economists…

Today before you take the Doctor’s word for it from Abim to Zombo, everyone will have first done a quick google to check the symptoms, making the conversation with the doctor a kind-of “I dare you to get this right” guessing game.

This lugezi gezi will increase almost tenfold in 2018, since we will have more smartphones in circulation and bundles (properly pronounced ‘bandwidth’) will be much, much cheaper and easier to access – not to mention the number of apps that are going to continually be rolled out by thousands of innovative ICT-nurtured youth. 

We ordinary mortals can only imagine the irritation by comparing it to the times we are doing homework with the children and trying not to google the right answers, only for the whippersnappers to challenge us – having googled the stuff themselves earlier in the day!

But we won’t break out into violent parenting methods, thank God. There are enough threats of violence around us without our adding to the pile – from the United States to North Korea and even some regional sabre rattling over here.

Luckily, none of these will come to fruition – most of 2018 will be like that time Kiiza Besigye and Kale Kayihura shook hands and smiled at each other just weeks after one of them had been let out of a police cell.

Speaking of politicians, after all this excitement of #Togikwatako we will have at least one surprise in 2018 – a young (REALLY YOUNG) politician with charisma, eloquence, poise and even serious local backing, stepping forward to declare his (not her) interest in the Presidential seat.

The name and identity of the candidate won’t be as much of a surprise as the fact that he (or she) puts themselves forward – and I am not talking about any popular musician here!

The youthfulness of the candidate is to be expected, what with our demographics, and we will then have to address ourselves to any other factors that come into play with these young new people.

That youthful politician will talk about cryptocurrencies as if they are about to be introduced in Amolatar and Isingiro, but again that will not surprise us either.

See, in 2018 there will be more cryptocurrency-genic people living and working outside of Kampala. One major advantage of all the internet connectivity we are seeing these days is the ability it gives people to work from anywhere they please.

Rather than live and work in Kampala, more young and upcoming professionals are going to move out of the capital city to take up residence in rural settings with less stress.

Because Kampala can cause you to have a nervous breakdown. All the traffic, bad driving, erratic road works and phone snatching roadside thieves will push many impatient and imaginative young people to take up cheaper accommodation well outside of the city and even Wakiso.

These young people won’t be employed by the big multinational companies – small and medium scale companies are going to be as flexible as their larger cousins, providing the internet access for their younger staff to be able to perform money-earning tasks from remote districts.

Some of these youngsters, unfortunately, will be the ones responsible for some high level crime as seen on TV. Not corruption related crime as such – that will still be in plenty since as a people and a society we have gone down that path quite consistently for many years now – but that terrible crime that makes us wince when we see it on TV.

The kidnappings we are going to deal with this year, and serial killers, and blackmailers are going to be much, much more serious than what we have talked about in 2017 – mostly in ignorance.

Now that we are binge-watching crime thrillers by way of pirated DVDs and subscribing to pay TV packages that are cheaper than the price of a litre of milk daily, there are going to be many more twisted criminal minds out within these borders. It will not be pretty.

Provided we don’t grow the type of gun culture that countries like the United States has developed, we will be fine. 

See, we will continue to be optimistic during 2018 and we will continue chant things like “Hakuna Mchezo” and “Buy Uganda, Build Uganda”.  We MUST.

I know – a lot of this sounds like a dream. 

But we should dream – provided we spend less time sleeping in order to have those dreams, and more time actually putting them into practice.

let’s identify and use our icons to promote Uganda more


THE first time I visited South Africa (the Republic) was in 1999, and the guys at the airport were still heady with the end end of apartheid – and to be frank, so was I.

Unlike myself, they couldn’t help bringing up Idi Amin when they read my Passport, even though I felt I deserved better as a Ugandan.

That entire visit I found that most people, including some random Zambian I met atop of Table Mountain, only linked the word “Uganda” to “Idi Amin” even though on interrogation I found that the Zambian HAD been to Uganda and met with serious Ugandans in the medical profession with no link whatsoever to our former President.

This is not about Idi Amin.

For about five years I found South Africans using different icons to relate to Uganda, but this week I was met by a Customs chap who responded to my being Ugandan (seeing the t-shirt) with, “Matooke! Did you bring Matooke?!”

The excitement of his exclamation could have been linked to the expectation that he would catch me bringing in this agricultural contraband and therefore earn some commission or bonus, but after I calmly denied he slapped my suitcase and smiled.

“Matooke tastes good, braa!”

I smiled and went along my merry way since it was late in the night, but the memory came back to me the next morning.

Through the years these icons have included enseenene (delicious tasting fried grasshoppers), which a number of South Africans find entertaining even though they and their cousins in Zimbabwe eat stuff like mopane worms; and Anne Kansiime who came up last year, proving the power and reach of our continental media.

“She’s a funny one, that one! Tell her I said hi!” said the Immigration chap that night.

At one point the icon they recognised most was our President, and I was relieved when instead of “Idi Amin!” they’d go, “Museveni!” This was about the time they seemed to learn about Uganda’s contribution to the apartheid struggle in the past.

Most Ugandans don’t know about this even now. I recall meeting some young South Africans back in my much younger days in some dark place in Kyambogo. A few hours in we realised they were complicated characters when they introduced knives into an equation that involved liquids of a potent nature.

The night ended without too much mayhem, and we didn’t become friends. Years later, I woke up in a dormitory somewhere and found myself face-to-face with one of those South Africans. He was back in the country to continue receiving the type of support that eventually led to these exclamations of “Museveni!” from his compatriots when I introduce myself as Ugandan.

When I was leaving South Africa the last guy at the security checkpoint asked me about David Obua. I smiled and we chatted briefly about this Ugandan.

This week’s declaration of “Matooke!” pleased me, and along the way I asked a few other South Africans about their knowledge or liking of the foodstuff – at least three of them confirmed it.

This is not about Matooke.

It is about icons – our national icons, and how much more we can do to identify and use them for diplomacy, tourism, investment and even our individual self-esteem. An ‘icon’ is “a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration.”

The fact that we have positive sounds about ordinary things like enseenene and Matooke means we have lots more to offer the world than we realise or make use of.

Our Ambassadors and Tourism afficionados could keep us notified what these icons are so we take advantage of them at every turn and corner. If Matooke is the big thing from Uganda in South Africa in 2017 then every Ugandan flying down there could go with a recipe book and a sample packet of matooke crisps or something even more innovative, and sell more Uganda out there.

If.

leadership is in a crisis from the united states to anywhere…even Uganda


POLITICAL Leadership the world over is taking a hit.

The Leader of the world’s Super Power is a petulant, foul-mouthed, misogynistic character whose ascendence to the top seat in the world’s so-called bastion of ‘freedom’ appalled the most idealistic of us out there.

Despicable Donald Trump
From http://www.businessinsider.com 

 

 

 

It was simply a sign of the times to come. There are many words we employ to describe people who behave the way this world leader does; some polite yet very apt – like ‘despicable’ – while others are too rude to be put into print.

For a long time, closer to home, we have seen these signs manifesting themselves mostly because of the activity that has taken centre stage for long years of political campaigning.

 

Sadly for us, the political activity and campaigns continue to focus more on the campaigns and attainment of positions and titles of ‘leadership’ rather than the results of that leadership.

This Tuesday was less surprising than disappointing, and not because of the usual reasons.

Having been locked up in a Leadership Retreat to discuss matters of seeming importance that would not be affected by the lifting or not of Age Limits anywhere in the world, I emerged from the Board Room in the evening to an amazing array of astonishing videos and social media messages.

The first stood out because of the vivid colour involved. Initially I took it to be some masterful disinformation and sabotage; how could I just believe that an adult who is currently in the public eye could dress up all in bright yellow and drive a bright yellow vehicle of a distinct make and model, then park it by the roadside and not expect to be recognized?

Abiriga Peeing
Someone urinating against a wall in public (From http://www.newvision.co.ug)

Even more, would I not be intellectually careless to simply accept it to be true that the brightly-clad adult would then stop close to the Parliament building where the world’s eyes are focused for the nonce, and still not think that someone would notice them?

More to that, in this day and age of frantic and ubiquitous social media activity and heavy smart phone penetration, what self-respecting grown person would stand up against the wall and engage in a spot of public urination?

Before passing verdict, I trawled through my messages for important ones and was flabbergasted to get to a video clip that purported (I use this word very carefully, because I must tell the children that all this is made up fiction) to be an interview with the same yellow-clad gentlemen suspected of public urination.

I watched the video once and decided that the words could have been doctored, even though the phrase “I was badly off” sounded authentic. I even found a Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) Ordinance 6 of 2006 that read that any person who “commits a nuisance by easing himself or herself in any street or place of public resort…where he or she may be seen by the public…” commits an offence.

Offence of Easing Oneself.jpg

Abiriga Criminal Summons

A short while later, I realized that I was subconsciously trying to avoid addressing the images and footage of Representatives of the Ugandan population engaged in a scuffle that involved hurling chairs about the ‘august’ House. That word ‘august’ means “respected and impressive”.

One person on Twitter lamented at the possibility of the children of any of the people in the Parliamentary fight footage seeing their parents fighting with their workmates, in suits and ties.

Two other video clips depicted other national leaders running from security officials, and others involved insults and disparagements befitting of an American President.

Here’s the one of Odonga Otto being chased by Parliamentary security officials: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Go2GNg0bEj4

Here’s the one of Moses Kasibante being chased by a policeman after jumping off a police pick-up truck: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvIeob4oUxA

There was no salvaging the day, in general, and I urged my phone battery to die quietly so I could rest.

The next morning, a friend of mine expressed his dismay over a snafu with an Operation Wealth Creation project upcountry that meant his mother was going to lose an investment worth Ushs100million.

See, the rains have started and she is ready to plant crops but…and as we were chatting I quickly checked to find out whether any Leader has recently given guidance to the Ugandan populace on agriculture, agribusiness, investment or any other ‘developmental’ issue.

Even though just six months ago we were talking about the drought being a national disaster, we are into the wet season and there is no noise being made about growing food crops and other such unimportant matters. We are all about ‘Politics’.

Finding that the Age Limit debate has dominated the conversation, I checked for a copy of the Bill that is causing so much national excitement that we have lost control of our adrenaline and bladders. All the intellectuals out there should surely have dissected it quite considerably left, right and centre?

Like most of you out there, I couldn’t find it, and I am not interested enough to really chase it down because supporting it is the least of my worries and has not been made desirable in any way, while opposing it appears both cliched and just as distasteful in action, as evidenced on Tuesday.

Indeed, today most everything to do with Politics (not Uganda, yet) is as undesirable and distasteful as finding old men engaged in public urination. In terms of Leadership, we are really badly off right now.

uganda: let’s delete the word ‘potential’ from our national dictionary


ON Wednesday morning I jumped out of bed as a rainstorm raged on outside trying to make it difficult for the lazy-minded to leave their beds.
I could have done with a few extra minutes of sleep that morning but the night before I had said something on a radio talk show about how unjustified it was for most of us to sleep at all, given the amount of work we needed to do to develop Uganda.
The thought that someone could call me out for spending longer in bed than I had publicly said was necessary drove me to my desk, so I was watching the storm through the window over the top of my computer as I made my day’s plan, thinking how happy the farming community must be about this weather change.
Only three people these past two weeks have spoken to me about the rains having started: My primary farming advisor (who is also my loving mother) , reminding me to make the necessary adjustments; my regular supplier of tree seedlings (@GreeningUganda), making a pitch for increased sales as per our standing arrangements; and the third, a friend’s highly energetic domestic employee, in a conversation.
This robust domestic employee, at a lunch party over the weekend, had me helping him move garden furniture because it was threatening to rain. “But are you sure it’s going to rain?” I asked him, to which he responded with a vigorously confident, “The rainy season has started. It will rain.”
The confidence with which he spoke stayed on my mind all through the sumptuous luncheon, and I thought to myself that this domestic worker must have had an agricultural background – like many of us do.
The neat, sprawling gardens in which we lunched were beautiful and vivid in colour and variety, and seeing this domestic employee flit about to and fro in the foreground of the floral compound made me wonder whether, with his knowledge of agriculture and vast amounts of energy, he would be using the rainy season to grow any crops, herbs, or spices for future luncheons to be had.
The potential of it all, I thought to myself, was massive!
Potential.jpg
Immediately, I mentally slapped myself round the back of my head. ‘Potential’. I am a little fed up of that word, in our context.
It means, my dictionary says, “having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future; and latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success or usefulness.
 
An hour or so later, I read an article that underscored why I dislike that word so much these days.
 
Uganda has potential to feed 200 million people – US envoy’, read the headline, followed by: “Uganda’s fertile agricultural land produces a wide range of food products and has the potential to feed 200 million people in the region and beyond,” said (Deborah) Malac.
This figure of 200 million was published by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations in August this year, and we have had tens of thousands other declarations of ‘Potential’ around Uganda.
We need to delete the word Potential from our national dictionary as soon as possible. If we don’t then we’re going to stay stuck at this Potentiality forever and ever.
Why does it irritate me?
Because we never seem to leave the Potential box and keep making headlines out of it instead of, ‘Uganda land deal boost for Centum’, as reported this week about Kenyan investors Centum buying up 14,000 acres of land in Uganda to grow maize and soya beans.
Those Kenyans are not dealing with just ‘Potential’ any more. Back in February 2011, a Centum official talked to a Ugandan newspaper about the Potential in Uganda, and today they are putting money onto the ground.
On the same day the newspapers were talking about that ‘Potential’ to feed 200 million people, I saw a news snippet about food relief being taken to the Kigezi region (for people affected by floods, not hunger) and sighed.
At that point, certain we won’t delete the word ‘Potential’ from our vocabularies soon, I stopped fretting over its existence.
Instead, I picked up my phone and contacted the friend who had hosted me to lunch over the weekend, to advise him to get his energetic domestic fellow to take advantage of the rainy season and plant some food-related things somewhere in the massive space surrounding his beautiful house now that the rains have started.